APS investigating iPads that disappeared from inventory

by: Richard Belcher Updated:

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ATLANTA - The disappearance of 10 brand new iPads is raising new questions about how well the Atlanta Public School system secures expensive equipment like computers and cameras.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher found the tablets apparently arrived then vanished.

It isn't the first time the issue has surfaced at APS.

A whistleblower investigation three years ago revealed the school system was spending $850,000 to verify what equipment or assets APS could find and what it couldn't find.

The issue is even mentioned in the state report on the cheating scandal.

After a whistleblower tipped off Channel 2 Action News to the inventory problem, Belcher examined records for Grady and North Atlanta High Schools.

At the time, 1,215 items purchased by taxpayers couldn't be found. Estimated value of the missing equipment was about $381,000.

Among the items were 15 Macbook computers worth $1,239 apiece, bought for Grady in 2008.

The system's CFO, Charles Burbridge, acknowledged some problems but said many items were probably worn out and thrown away.

"Ten-year-old enlargers, in the digital age, it's probably past its useful life anyway," Burbridge said.

But now the inventory security issue is back. This time the missing equipment is modern, useful and expensive.

Gone now are iPads. Ten of them disappeared after they were shipped to APS's communications office last May.

The school system says it paid $499 apiece, so the loss is just under $5,000.

Superintendent Errol Davis ordered an investigation after he received a report that the missing iPads were part of a larger shipment of iPads that arrived at APS, but wasn't recorded in the APS inventory system for over two months.

A former APS inventory expert named Patrick Crawford wrote Belcher two years ago that the system faced severe risks of losing millions of dollars of equipment.

Crawford specifically cited, "computers, flat screen televisions, band instruments and other technical equipment."

The state report on the cheating scandal said Crawford was fired in 2010 weeks after he submitted a report critical of APS's inventory security.

Investigators said that was evidence of the culture of fear under then-superintendent Beverly Hall.

Channel 2 Action News is awaiting the results of the iPad theft investigation, which has been underway for eight months.